Grading Breaks – Movies and Opera

I haven't been posting so much because it is exam grading time, but I have been taking occasional breaks and wanted to comment just briefly on three of those.

About a week ago I went to see "The Fighter," the new movie about the boxing triumph as world welterweight champion of Mickey Ward from Lowell, Massachusetts.  Mark Wahlberg, fascinated with the subject and eager to play the part of Mickey, worked hard to put this deal together, and he is really superb in the film.  He has developed into a thoughtful, serious actor, and he obviously worked very hard to get into tip-top shape to portray a professional boxer.  But fine as he is, the quiet center of the film, he is a bit overshadowed by two co-stars, Christian Bale portraying Ward's older half-brother, Dickie, and Melissa Leo as the mother from hell.  These two were over-the-top outrageous (but, evidently, entirely in character to be so).  The film is fast-paced and exciting, although I thought the soundtrack was just too, too loud at times.  Amy Adams was stellar as Ward's girlfriend.  Indeed, the entire cast was fun to watch.  I can see why this one has turned out to be so popular.

At the other end of the popularity index is "Undertow," which I saw in an audience of four in the tiny balcony section of Cinema Village on E. 12 St. at a matinee performance on Christmas Eve.  This is by any stretch of the imagination the more artistic of the two films and, could a large audience be enticed to see it, I think it could achieve popularity.  But it has so many strikes against it, as far as the mass U.S. audience is concerned – a gay love story, set in Peru, soundtrack in Spanish with English subtitles, and none of the actors is a known quantity in the U.S.  On the other hand, the story of a married Peruvian fisherman who goes on the "down low" with an artist from the big city is told with great sensitivity, the performances are perfect, and the cast eminently watchable.  I thought this one of the better and more thought-provoking films I've seen in a long time.  I wish it had more of an audience.

Finally, a last minute suprise due to the massive snowstorm that hit New York City on Sunday….  The Metropolitan Opera had lots of cancellations for their Monday night performance from people who could not make it to the city, and word went out to those connected that free tickets were available.  A friend is one of those with such connections, he invited me, and so I ended up in a prime seat in Row G of the orchestra for last night's performance of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco.  California gold miners singing in Italian is a strange business, but the opera works, especially after the overly lengthy introductory portion of Act I.   (Why would a man of such strong theatrical instincts as Puccini have long delayed the entrance of his two stars with such uninteresting busy stuff, I'll never know – especially considering that one of those stars singing in the first performance was Enrico Caruso!) 

The major event of the evening was the Metropolitan Opera debut of Carl Tanner, a tenor, as Dick Johnson, the outlaw hero (?) of the evening (the original Caruso role).  Tanner got a big buildup in The Times with a feature story about his unconventional past occupations before he finally took the plunge full time to study opera.  In the event, I thought it took him a while to really get warmed up and find his voice in the first act – it's a big house and singing in it with an audience affecting the acoustics undoubtedly presents some adjustment issues at a debut, but by the second act he was coming on strong and his big third act aria was wonderful.  A good debut, I would say.  Among the other principals, Deborah Voigt acted up a storm as Minnie, but I thought some of her long high notes were a bit squally….  Lucio Gallo as Sheriff Jack Rance reminded my host of the evening of Scarpia (from Tosca), and I have to agree.  The character has some of those aspects, and the singer was rightly matched to the role.  Conductor Nicola Luisotti led a propulsive performance and made much of Puccini's inventive orchestration, and the fine old production by Giancarlo del Monaco remains more than just serviceable.  I hadn't been planning to attend this, but was glad to have done so.  It made a nice break from Contracts exams!!

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